Ashbery: 64 indispensible poems

In the past two months I've systematically re-read every poem John Ashbery has published, from earliest to current (Quick Question, 2013), and in the second half of that time I've taught (or, rather, led discussions with my students on) several hundred poems. For whatever it’s worth (I don't suppose much), here is my list of 64 poems I deem indispensible to a whole understanding of Ashbery’s writing. Note that six of these 64 “greatest” are from his newest book.

Some Trees (1956)

The Instruction Manual

The Grapevine

The Picture of Little J.A. in a Prospect of Flowers

Some Trees


The Tennis Court Oath (1962)

The Tennis Court Oath



Rivers and Mountains (1966)

These Lacustrine Cities

Rivers and Mountains

Into the Dusk-Charged Air

The Skaters

The Double Dream of Spring (1970)

Soonest Mended

Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape

Three Poems (1972)

The System

Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975)

Forties Flick

A Man of Words

The One Thing That Can Save America

Tenth Symphony

Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

Houseboat Days (1977)

Street Musicians

Business Personals

Saying It to Keep It from Happening

Daffy Duck in Hollywood

And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name

What Is Poetry

As We Know (1979)

My Erotic Double

Shadow Train (1981)

Paradoxes and Oxymorons

Hard Times

A Wave (1984)

At North Farm

Just Walking Around

Purists Will Object

April Galleons (1987)

Forgotten Sex

Posture of Unease


Disguised Zenith

October at the Window

Sighs and Inhibitions

Hotel Lautreamont (1992)

On the Empress’s Mind

And the Stars Were Shining (1994)

Well, Yes, Actually

Can You Hear, Bird (1995)

A Poem of Unease

Operators Are Standing By

Sleepers Awake

The Problem of Anxiety

Wakefulness (1998)

Like America

The Dong with the Luminous Nose

Your Name Here (2000)

This Room

Memories of Imperialism

Crossroads in the Past

Where Shall I Wander (2005)

Annuals and Perennials

Planisphere (2009)


The Later Me

They Knew What They Wanted

Quick Question (2013)

Quick Question

The Short Answer

How I Met You

Auburn-Tinted Fences

Not Beyond All Conjecture

Iphigenia in Sodus